Sie sind auf Seite 1von 21
Marx's Doctoral Thesis on Two Greek Atomists and the Post-Kantian Interpretations Author(s): Peter Fenves Source:

Marx's Doctoral Thesis on Two Greek Atomists and the Post-Kantian Interpretations Author(s): Peter Fenves Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1986), pp. 433-452

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Stable URL: .

Accessed: 22/06/2014 10:21

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .


JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


information about JSTOR, please contact . University of Pennsylvania Press is collaborating with

University of Pennsylvania Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the History of Ideas.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions






Only one word is illegible in Karl Marx's letter to Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-64), dated December 21, 1857. The missing word describes the focus of Marx's doctoral dissertation (accepted by the University of Jena in 1841) entitled Differenz der demokratischenund epikureischen Natur- philosophie ("Difference between Democrates's and Epicurus's Philoso- phy of Nature," 116 pages):

I have a great tendernessfor the latter philosopher[Heraclitus], and of the

ancientsI only prefer

pecially this one), Stoic, and Skeptic, I've madean object of specialstudy, but

moreout of

Whatever one wishes to insert in the blank would prove insufficient because one word cannot summarize Marx's first encounter with Hegel and with the entire Western philosophical traditions since the Eleatics. Although the dissertation foreshadows Marx's later work most of all in its many orientations, objectives, and methods of research, one central aspect of the compilation of notebooks and manuscripts that span 1839- 41 deserves particular attention: the dissertation in a site where two opposing concepts of science are weighed against each other.2The battle lines are drawn between Hegel's "science of logic," which executes di- alectical contradiction, and Kant's notion of natural science, grounded in a transcendental philosophy which avoids all contradictory moments. That Marx's earliest work should include a confrontation between Kant and Hegel, the two greatest German thinkers, should not be surprising:

in the famous letter of 1837 he informs his father that he must soon choose between the two philosophers.3Although it has scarcely been

Aristotlemore. The later philosophers-Epicurus(es-

than philosophical interest.'

'Marx-Engels Werke (Berlin, 1960-83), XXIX, 547. Hereafter, MEW (in my trans- lation). The editors add politische, but it is only a conjecture. Cf. Correspondence K. Marx-F. Lassalle, 1848-1864, trans. and ed. S. Dayan-Herzbrun (Paris, 1977), 149.

2 "Thesis"refers to the work Marx submitted to the University of Jena, "Notebooks" to the seven notebooks used in preparation, and "dissertation"to the combination of the two. Quotations are from the dual language (Greek, German) MEW, Erginzungsband. All translations are my own, but for convenience I include the page numbers from Collected Works,trans. R. Dixon (Thesis), D. J. and S. R. Struik (Notebooks) (Moscow, 1976), I. 3 See Collected Works, I, 18. If, as he says, he began to "seek the idea in reality itself," the dissertation is a long meditation on the consequences of such a search. For a short discussion of the general alteration in the concept of Wissenschaft after Hegel, cf. Herbert Schnadelbach,Philosophy in Germany:1831-1933, trans. E. Matthews (Cam- bridge, 1984), 66-108.




This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




perceived, the six notebooks written in preparation for his Thesisand the fragments of the Thesis itself constitute one of the first analyses of the concept of science as it oscillates between Hegel's logic and Kant's critique of metaphysics. The missing word in the letter to Lassalle-the key to his Thesis-may be found in the drama Marx creates among the German philosophers as they wear the masks of the ancient Greek atomists. In the introduction to his Thesis Marx delineates two forms of sci- entific inquiry and identifies them with the two most important Greek atomists. The outcome of the atomists' struggle will determine the func- tion of contradiction and the nature of science. Democritus is presented as a physicist who is concerned only with the empirical laws that govern matter. Epicurus, on the other hand, denies necessity, accepts chance when he introducesthe atoms' swerve (clinamen), and in the most extreme case actually denies disjunctivejudgment; his refusal to respect the law of noncontradiction demonstrates that he shows nothing but "contempt for the positive sciences" (Thesis, 273; 41). Now Marx, far from simply allowing Democritus the title of "scientist" by default, awards the title to the one who presents contradiction rather than determination: "Epi- curus objectifies the contradiction in the concept of the atom between essence and existence. He thus gives us the science of atomism" (Thesis, 289; 58). The implication is clear. Science is not the investigation of material conditions and the determination of specific laws which govern matter; rather, it is Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik, which presents the most extremecontradictionin a category as it passes over into an opposite, more concrete category. The struggle over the essence of science then carries into Marx's subtle presentation of the atomists as a confrontation between Germany's two greatest thinkers. Democritus occupies Kant's place while Epicurus appears as a proto-Hegel:


is an actuality whichhas only

againEpicurus stands directlyopposed to Democritus. Chance, for him,

the valueof

possibility. Abstract possibility, how-

ever, is the direct antipodeof real possibility. Thelatteris restrictedwithin sharp

limits [Grenze], as is the understanding[ Verstand];the formeris unbounded,

as is phantasy. Real possibility seeksto explain the necessity and reality of its

object; abstract possibility is

in the subject who explains.(Thesis,276;44)

not interestedin

the object whichis explained, but

Abstract possibility, in the process of destroying all determination, reveals the subject in its self-positing activity. Whereas real possibility is limited to the objects of knowledge and thus to the synthesis of sensuous intuition by the understanding, abstract possibility is concerned only with objects of thought which, in principle, go beyond the limits (Grenze) of De- mocritus's researches and Kant's critiques. No sensual circumstances condition thought. With scarcely any original sources Marx establishes an opposition between the two atomists' theories of time in order to present the difference between Kant's limited Erkenntnis and Hegel's

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



unlimited Wissen.Democritus's theory of time is clearly represented as Kantian: "Time excluded from the world of essence is transferredinto the self-consciousness of the philosophizing subject but does not contact the world itself" (Thesis, 295; 63). Epicurus, in contrast, does not exclude time from the Ding an sich, and he anticipates the last part of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, where time becomes the "absolute form of

appearance" (Thesis, 295; 63), which is finally superseded by thought. Epicurus considers Democritus's theory to be only one moment in the development of the concept: he radicalizes the ideas of the earlieratomist through his refusal to accept an entity that falls outside the philosopher's grasp. According to Marx, Epicurus (proto-Hegel) cancels the limitations that Democritus (Kant) proposed: "his method of investigation tends to

supersede [aufzuheben] all objective reality of nature" (Thesis, 277;

In other words Epicurus prepares the groundwork for the absolute ide-

alism through the demonstration that matter-the

ditioned-is self-contradictory: the atom invariably leads to the contradiction between existence and essence or, using Hegel's Eleatic language to which Marx occasionally returns, the contradiction between being and thought. In Democritus (Kant) thought is conditioned by

matter; in Epicurus (proto-Hegel) thought takes its first steps away from

its entanglement in material conditions and posits itself as the "totality."

A science which did not affirm the contradiction inherent in matter,

which did not accept Epicurus'scontempt for the natural sciences, would never attain the totality of being and thought: "true" science would then

be lost. Democritus's empirical investigation, which, like Kant's regu-

lative Idea of reason aims at a totality that cannot be achieved, would

emerge as the only valid scientific endeavor. The stigma of endless re- search which Hegel branded "bad infinity" could not be overcome in a self-superseding Wissenschaft. Yet Marx did not begin his researcheswith the differentiationbetween

Epicurus's and Democritus's presentations of atomism.

that form the background of his Thesis never mention Democritus's role

The six notebooks


finite and the con-

as the bearerof Kantianism and "bad" infinity. The earlieratomist enters

the Thesis as the confirmation of a hypothesis. By cataloguing the "mi- crological differences" that separate the two atomists (Thesis, 268; 36), Marx insists that he can detect a momentous transformation in Greek

philosophy and society which culminates in the philosophies of self- consciousness: the post-Aristotelian movements witnessed in the works

of the Stoics, Epicurus, and the Skeptics. We cannot understand Marx's

argument unless we recognize that Democritus appears in the Thesis in order to indicate the vast historical changes which Greek society under- went between the times of the two atomists. As Marx states in the first

section of his Thesis,his real goal cannot be reached without an analysis

the history of Greek civilization, and since he cannot explore history

any depth (after all, he insists, it is only a dissertation), he will take



This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




a shortcut and simply demonstrate the differences between the two at- omists; one can then infer the extent of historical development that separates Epicurus from his predecessor. Fortunately, Marx's Notebooks offer his actual exposition of the historical themes, and they attest to the difficulty he faced in presenting a coherent history of Greek philosophy and society. After examining the two historical scenarios which he elab- orated, one might begin to question the motive for placing Democritus at the center of the Thesis:the reason may have less to do with the lack of space than with the inherent difficulty of presenting the history of a society which is deduced from the concept of the atom. Marx begins to analyze Epicurus's atomic theory by identifying var- ious "contradictions"that surfacein Epicurus's work. The opening prem- ise, the premise which is never dropped in the course of the dissertation, is that Epicurus is "the philosopher of representation" (der Philosoph der Vorstellung), who reduces all real conditions to subjective represen- tations (Notebook, 31; 410). Representation and atomism always occur together because the consciousness of atomism betrays an "atomistic consciousness" which is free only insofar as its freedom is merely imag- ined: "This freedom of representation is therefore but an assumed, im- mediate, imagined one, which in its true form is atomism" (Notebook, 38; 414). By fixing the "shape of consciousness" that posits atomism, Marx is responding both to the Hegelian exigency and, more importantly, to the conception of atomism as a proto-monadology. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), following the lead of Hegel, had explored the relationship between Epicurus and Leibniz in his Darstellung,Entwicklung und Kritik der Leibniz'schen Philosophie(1837).4 The resemblancebetween the Leib- nizian monad and the Epicurean atom allows Marx to discover the strength of atomism and then to uncover its concept amidst its various expressions. He sees that the atom/monad, far from serving as an ex-

4 See Sdmmtliche Werke (Stuttgart, 1959), IV, 54-57. Cf. G. W. F. Hegel, Siimmtliche Werke,ed. H. Glockner (Stuttgart, 1959), XIX, 455-56 (hereafter Werke). Marx, as his early notebooks attest, was fascinated by Leibniz's philosophy; see Marx-Engels Ge- sammtausgabe (Berlin, 1976), Ab. IV, Bd. I, 183-212, esp. 197-98. It may seem strange to link Leibniz, who perhaps more than any other philosopher relied upon teleology (the principle of sufficient reason), and Epicurus, who seems so strongly to deny teleological explanations. But Marx, I think, adopts the formula "atom = monad," when he notices that Epicurus at one point must introduce teleology (Notebook, 34; 412) and, more importantly, when he notices that both philosophers confound sensation with under- standing in order to preserve an autonomous agent. Marx is most interested in the moments when Epicurus abandons any suggestion of a Leibnizian monadology in order to foster a more perfect autonomy: (1) the abandonment of sufficient reason in the clinamen and (2) the dismissalof non-contradictionin the Epicureantheory of the heavens. Cf. Marx's final comments on Max Stirner'sDer Einzige und sein Eigentum (1844): the entire work, he affirms, is merely an application of Leibniz's principle of the indiscern- ability of individuals to human society (MEW, III, 428). Some of Marx's fury against Stirner may be due to a belated self-recognition.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



planatory principle in the investigation of empirical laws, necessitates the annihilation of matter, of finitude, of the conditioned itself. Matter, to use the fine phrase which Kant introduced in his critique of Leibniz, is

intellectualized and thereby loses its specific property of determinateness,

its extra-logical feature.5 Epicurus disregards material conditions

ing subjectiverepresentations( Vorstellungen) above the demands of finite existence: "What is lasting and great in Epicurus is that he gives no preference to conditions over representations, and tries as little to save them [the conditions]" (Notebook, 41; 415). It is clear that Marx is referring to Leibniz's famous phrase "to save the phenomena or appear- ances."6 Both Epicurus's atomism and the monadology preserve ap- pearances (Vorstellungen in its widest sense) through the reduction of conditions; neither the monad nor the atomistic consciousness imputed to Epicurus admit an objective world that conditions their representations. But Marx must have sensed that Leibniz, because of the rigor of his thought and not in spite of it, was forced to posit a God who harmonizes all the monads, who synchronizes all the representations. Here is a prob- lem to which Marx will be forced to return: does atomism, universally recognized as atheistic, eventually demand the Leibnizian God? More generally, does the "intellectualization"of phenomena, the central aspect of the monadology not only for Kant but also for Marx, inevitably lead to a revival of theology? Epicurus's abandonment of teleological expla- nations may yet entail the reintroduction of teleology. A moment after insisting that Epicurus saves phenomena but not their material conditions, Marx announces the stakes involved in his presentation of history: "Epicurus stands higher than the Skeptics not only because the conditions and representations are reduced to nothing, but their perception, the thinking of them and the reasoning about their existence, proceeding from something solid, is likewise only a possibility"

by rais-

5 Kant called this extra-logical feature, the etwas mehr (something more) which distinguished an object of thought from a real object. See The Critiqueof Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York, 1965), 276-96 (A, 260-87; B, 316-48). Cf. Della Volpe's analysis of the relationship between Leibniz and Kant on the one hand, Hegel and Marx on the other; Opera (Rome, 1973), IV, 281-319. Michel Serres, a scholar of both Leibniz and Lucretius, recognizes that Marx's dissertation is more concerned with the monadology and even more with the theodicy than with ancient materialism; see Hermes, trans. J. Harai and D. Bell (Baltimore, 1982), 103. 6 See Leibniz's essay, "New System, and Explanation of the New System," in Phil- osophical Writings, trans. M. Morris and G. Parkinson (Totowa, N.J., 1973), 128. For the history of this expression, see Pierre Duhem, To Save the Phenomena, trans. E. Doland and C. Maschler (Chicago, 1969). Leibniz's essay, more than any other, allows one to see the proximity between Marx's atom and the Leibnizian monad. Not only does Leibniz clearly express his opposition to a purely inert atom but he also spells out the consequences of the monad as "substantial form" which "must embrace some element of form or activity in order to make a complete being" (116)-precisely Epicurus's advance over Democritus.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



(Notebook, 41; 415). Epicurus clears the way for absolute idealism through the cancellation of empirical conditions. According to Hegel's reading of post-Aristotelian philosophy, the skeptics, through their var- ious "tropes" and verbal tricks, prepare the way for true philosophy, that is, for idealism, because they systematically undermineall conviction in the actuality of the material world. The propaedeutic for a philosophy that radically questions the universal validity of the senses and thus prepares the way for the Aufhebung of matter in spirit remains a radical skepticism.7Epicurus is here playing the same role for Marx. As empirical science, insofar as it rests upon the postulate of objective conditions,

becomes an impediment, so

of the empirical scientist's search for objective grounds. The clinamen cancels the possibility of determinism, and not surprisingly it reveals the very principle of atomism: "Only from the clinamen does the individual motion emerge, the relation has its determination as the determination of the self and no other" (Notebook, 42-44; 416). Now Marx can both swerve away from Hegel's depiction of Epicurus as an empiricist or proto- physicist and present the true, though implicit, concept of the atom: pure being-for-self(Fiirsichsein), which realizes itself in the swerving from the straight line. It is through this concept and its realization that Marx will

attempt to present the history of atomism. If he can succeed, if history can be deducedfrom the concept, then the identity of being and thought- the dialectical synthesis which supersedes the nonteleological, empirical sciences-stands confirmed. Marx's Thesis is, in the strictest sense of the word, an experiment which tests the validity of Hegel's central philo- sophical claim. Once Marx finishes writing out and commenting upon the major Epicureanfragmentscompiled by Gassendi, he begins to infer the history of Greek society. His guiding conviction is that the concept of the atom (pure being-for-self) and its realization (the spontaneous swerving) pro- vide an adequate set of theoretical formulations for the elaboration of actual historical development. After a few preliminary formulations of history which repeatmany of the Young Hegelians' themes, Marx initiates his particularstudy through the identification of the atom with man, but not just any man, for the atom becomes the concept implicit in the sophoi-the Greek sages.8 "If we study [the sophos] we shall find that

Epicurus's atomism violates the very essence

7 See the last section of the second volume of Vorlesungen iiber der Geschichteder Philosophie(Werke, VIII, esp. 552-54), which reiterates the "Introduction" to the Phe- nomenologyof Spirit. Cf. also the young Hegel's attack upon Schulze in "Verhaltnisdes

Skepticismus zur Philosophie" (Werke, I, 215-77). Two

Kaufmann agree upon the necessity of this skeptical moment in Hegel. See Marxism and Hegel, trans. L. Garner (London, 1973), 68-85; Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: A Reinterpre- tation (South Bend, Ind., 1978), 63-73. 8 Hegel made the same identification in his introduction to the post-Aristotelians (Werke, XVIII, 425). In general Marx's history contains nothing that could not be found

writers as diverse as Colletti and

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



he belongs logically to the atomistic philosophy of Epicurus and that, viewed from this standpoint too, the downfall of ancient philosophy is presented with complete objectivity in Epicurus" (Notebook, 78; 432). The passage from logic to history is now established: just as the

logical development of the atom leads to the clinamen and the breakdown

of the conditions, the

matter, the historical development of the sophos culminates in a contra- diction between matter and spirit. Matter is here conceived as the "in- itself' or "substantial life" of Greek society, while spirit is seen as the manifestation of individualism within Greek cultural life and therefore

as the development of self-consciousness. "What appears theoretically in the account given of matter appears practically in the definition of the soul of Greek life, where the Greek spirit is substance" (Notebook, 76- 78; 432). Marx now attempts to show how pure being-for-self developed out of society's intellectual substance. Beginning with the first sophoi, who were merely the "substancebecome vocal" of the Greek people, he passes from the Pythagoreans (who conceived of subjectivity only ab- stractly) to Anaxagoras. The latter's expulsion from the polis, along with the Sophist's dialectic and Socrates's trial, present us with an inversion

(Umkehrung): "subjectivity

losophy" (Notebook, 82; 437). Marx now had to find a place for Plato.

Using Aristotle's Metaphysics as his sole guide,

philosophy an absolute diremption between the ideal world and the real one (spirit and substance),but, sensing that this diremption is contradicted not only by numerous passages in Plato's work but also by his actual political activities, Marx asserts a "contradiction [which] must objectify itself to itself' (Notebook, 86; 440). But this same objectification (Ver- gegenstdnden) is, according to the preceding Notebook, the task of and historical justification for Epicurus'sphilosophy (Notebook, 44; 416). The circle is closed, but it is closed at the wrong stage. History recaptures logic, but the philosopher's positions become confounded. Marx cannot carry through his first attempt at an historical presen- tation. Instead of describing the passage from Plato to Aristotle by means

of the concept of the sophos, he suddenlyjumps to Lucretius's description of Ionian philosophy, and then, in another non sequitur, he outlines Epicurus's notion of time. Although he is of course only writing notes, the fragmentation indicates that the concept of the sophos seems incapable of explaining the complexities of Greek intellectual history, much less the history of Greek civilization. Marx senses the breakdown, I suspect,

determinateness, and ultimately the superseding of

establishes itself as the principle of phi-

he adduces in Plato's

in Hegel, but his task, which is indeed enormous, is to weave a coherent presentation of atomism as (1) a stage in the historical development of Greek civilization, (2) a phe- nomenological "form of consciousness" on the way to absolute knowing, and (3) a logical category (Fursichsein). It is as if he had to condense Hegel's history, phenomenology, and logic into a single compendium.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




and he tries to end the Notebook with a recapitulation that can find a place for Aristotle: "the same form that saw the gods even in the burning heat, the same which drank the poison cup, the same which as the God of Aristotle, enjoys the greatestblessedness, theory" (Notebook, 90; 441). The guiding thread of his analysis is lost, since in order to save his conceptual Leitmotif he loses his most important theme: actual historical development. All we find is "the same." About a year later Marx attempted another extended derivation of history from the "logic" of the atom. In the sixth Notebook the compli- cated business of passing from Anaxagoras to Aristotle is bypassed, and

the latter philosopher enters history as the one who embracesthe



the particular, who becomes the "total philosopher" and thus becomes,

to use Marx's strange expression, a "concretized"atom.9After Aristotle, the "atom" who has become actual, philosophy falls into diremption, swerving away from the straight line: "As in the history of philosophy there are nodal points which raise philosophy in itself to concretion, apprehend abstract principles in a totality, and thus swerve [abbrechen] from rectilinear progress [i.e., the clinamen], so also there are moments when philosophy must turns its eye to the external world, no longer

apprehend it but as a practical person weave, as it were, its intrigues

with the world

leads to the clinamen both in the logic of Fiirsichseinand in the history of Greek society. Marx thus, in the most derivative part of his dissertation,

follows Hegel, Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), and Karl Koppen (1808-1863)


as the precursors of the Roman world.?1When Marx returnsto the Greek world, he translates the clinamen into the Hegelian term Umschlag (in- version, sudden transformation) and insists that through the study of the particular Umschlag one can deduce what came before (Notebook, 218; 493). Yet he does not begin to present the history from the oldest sophos to Epicurus and the Skeptics by means of the concept of the atom and its realization in the clinamen. Rather, he turns once again to another

topic (Christianity and Plato) without having accomplished the "reason- ing back." In Marx's Thesis proper Democritus appears as a substitute for the actual presentation of Greek historical development. Marx only needs to show the vast space hidden in the "micrological differences" between the two atomists; and by accentuating the differences, he can indicate without further demonstration that the development of the con-

." (Notebook, 214; 491). The sophos who is actualized

describing the post-Aristotelian philosophers who swerved from Hegel

9 The particular that embodies the universal is alternatively the "individual" or the concretized (because particularized) atom. 10See Hegel's Vorlesungen iiber die Philosophie der Geschichte (Werke, XI, 406-09). Hegel explains the reception of Epicureanism with great emphasis on the social and economic issues of the Roman Republic in decline; he casts the decay which he once attributed to Christianity in his early "theological" writings onto the post-Aristotelian philosophers.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



cept of the atom is in truth the self-development of the concept as it embodies itself in the Greek world.11Not only did he indicate this self- development, he can use it as his implicit method.

So Marx's historical presentation of the atomists and the logical presentation of their concept, not surprisingly, rest upon the dialectical unity of being and thought. If Marx can sustain his historical and logical presentations, if he can show the development of the concept is in truth its own self-development, he will have vindicated Hegel's Wissenschaft. But we must notice one strange aspect of the dissertation: Marx is re- luctant to delineate the category which supersedes atomism's being-for- self or to describe the "shape of consciousness" which overcomes the atomist's limitations. He seems, in other words, uneasy about the unity of being and thought in a speculativeAufhebung. In the "Preface"to his Thesisthis uneasinessfinds expression in the statement that Hegel misread the post-Aristotelians because of "what he called the speculative par excellence" (Thesis, 262; 30), and it seems as though he wished at all cost to avoid the same misrecognition. For one key word is absent from Marx's account of the logic of atom: he never mentions the possibility of atomistic attraction, although it is only through attraction that Hegel supersedes atomism and passes, in the Wissenschaft der Logik and the Encyclopedia, from quality into quantity.12 To summarize Marx's presentation in the first chapter of his Thesis:

the atom is first of all a relation, since it first appears as a point in a straight line; yet as pure being-for-self the atom is at the same time the negation of all relation, an ideal abstracted from material connections. The first determination is "objectified"by Epicurus in the straight line, the second in the clinamen. Marx now structureshis presentation around the consequences of the abstraction from all relation. In fact the most significant difference between Marx and Hegel in their respective expli- cations of Fiirsichsein is one of emphasis: whereas Hegel concentrates upon the supersession of pure being-for-self, Marx emphasizes the con-

l Marx's "micrological difference," while expressing an important truth, is much too simple. He often misses the complexity of Democritus's work by stressing the distinction between the two atomists. Cf. Cyril Bailey, "Karl Marx on Greek Atomism," Classical Quarterly, 22 (1928), 205-06. Cf. also J. M. Gabaude, Le jeune Marx et le materialisme antique (Toulouse, 1970), ch. 4. Marx decided to ignore Democritus's ethical fragments and simply rely upon Aristotle's (not always reliable)description of the atomists' physical theory (see MEW, III, 124). On Aristotle's reception of Democritus, see the intriguing essay by Heinz Wismann, "Atomos Idea," Neue Heftefuir Philosophie, 15/16 (1979), 34- 52. But it is probably accurate to assert that Epicurus attempted to avoid Aristotle's criticism of atomism (hence, the partial validity in ascribing an Umschlag).

Repulsion pro-

vides the material for attraction" (173). Cf. also J. M. Gabaude, Lejeune Marx, 137-41,

and Difference de la philosophie de la nature chez Democrite et Epicure, ed. and trans. Jacques Ponnier (Bordeaux, 1970), 305.

12 See Science of Logic, 173-78: "In attraction ideality is realized

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




sequences of that category. The Epicurean contradiction does not lead to a speculative Aufhebung; on the contrary, it leads to externality and to pure materiality:

We now consider the consequence that follows immediately from the declination

of the atom

Its negationof all relationto something else mustbe realized,

positively established.Thiscan be done only if the being to whichit relates itself

is none other than itself hence equally an atom, and since it itself is directly

determined,many atoms.So the repulsionof theatomsis therefore the necessary

realization [Verwirklichung]of the lex atomi, as Lucretius calls the declination. (Thesis, 283; 51)

The turning away from the other-as-self constitutes, for Marx as well as for Hegel, the repulsion of purebeing-for-self. Marx illustrateshis analysis by replacing "atom" with "man" and, more surprisingly, with "myself." Repulsion then corresponds to two moments of human (or spiritual) interaction. On the one hand "man first ceases to be a product of nature" and assumes the form of "abstract individuality" (Thesis, 284; 52); on the other hand repulsion returnsthe atom (man) to materiality, for "when

I comportmyself to myself as to an immediate-other,my comportment is

a materialone. It is the highest externality which can be thought" (Thesis, 284; 52). Thus, the detour through "the other" heralds the return of matter, not the supersession of existence and the appearance of essence. Attraction never arrives, the speculative reconciliation (Vers6hnung) can- not be found. A material object-dependent and conditioned existence- returns once again. Marx's reluctance to invoke attraction, his concentration on the con- sequences of atomism rather than on its overcoming, and his refusal to supersede the concept of the atom may indicate that he, possibly unwit- tingly, is responding to Adolf Trendelenburg'sLogische Untersuchungen (1840), the first major confrontation with Hegel's "dialectical logic."

Trendelenburg's work

to Hegel because of its insistence upon the individuality of judgment and upon the presence of content in logical judgments independent of logic itself. What is of particularimportance for Marx's Thesisis the example Trendelenburg chooses to illustrate the abuses logic suffers in Hegel's hands: he attacks the being-for-self section of Hegel's Encyclopedia(par. 96) in precisely the section developed to the philosophy of atomism. Hegel's presentation, he asserts,dependsupon a serious misunderstanding in which "logical negation is transferredinto real opposition."13 Attrac-

may be read, in many ways, as Aristotle's reply

13 Adolf Trendelenburg,Logische Untersuchungen(3rd ed.; Leipzig, 1870), 50. Ac-

cording to Bruno Bauer, Marx considered writing a Hegelian critique of it (see Marx-

Engels Gesammtausgabe, Abt.

of Trendelenburg's edition of Aristotle's De Anima (and at times corrected the Berlin professor'sGreek). Cf. Mario Rossi, La Scuola hegeliana e il giovane Marx (Rome, 1963), 56-63 and 284-88; also Lucio Colletti, Tramonto dell'ideologia (Bari, 1980), 104-15.

3, Bd. I, Text, 354 and 361). He also copied large portions

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



tion, moreover, is precisely the type of dialectical operation that "secretly makes concrete intuition the vehicle [for abstract thought]" (48); and the Negation der Negation, where "the something finds itself again in the other" (49), exploits the ambiguity in the word negation-as a logical

is again hidden in the speculative

Aufhebung. By refusing to invoke attraction among atoms at any point, Marx may be indicating an uneasiness about Hegel's logic which was suggested by Trendelenburg'scritique. Epicurus, one might say, is not a proto-Hegel; rather, Hegel is a German Epicurus, who confounds real

objects with objects of thought and who, as Kant would say, intellec- tualizes phenomena. Even in the place where attraction would seem most fitting, Marx demurs. He adds to the manuscript of the Thesis:"Hence we find also more concrete forms of repulsion applied by Epicurus. In the political domain there is the contract, in the social domain friendship, which is praised as the highest good" (Thesis, 285; 53). No attraction, no inherent unity appears either in the contrat social or even in friend-

ship.14 So when Marx affirms that Epicurus was "the first to

concept and as a real operation-which

grasp the


of repulsion





its material

existence" (Thesis, 285; 53), he is saying not that Epicurus purified the atom of its material aspect but quite the opposite. Because the later atomist conceived of the atom as self-consciousness and thus abstracted from material conditions, he explicated what was merely implicit in Democritus: the concept of the atom always leads to materiality and the highest possible externality. The contradiction between essence and ex- istence, between thought and being, cannot be overcome in the negation of the negation, "the speculativepar excellence."

In his first Notebook Marx played with a number of contradictions he found in Epicurus's writings, but for his Thesis he settled upon one pervasive contradiction that dominates Epicurus's mature atomism. By

For an accurateassessmentof the problem of logical versus real contradiction, see Michael Wolff, Der Bergriff des Widerpruchs-Eine Studie zur Dialektik Kants und Hegels. (Ko- nigstein, 1981). Just a short time later, Kierkegaard invoked Trendelenburg'scritique as a demonstration of Hegel's inability to reduce "existence" to logic; see Concluding Un- scientific Postscript, trans. D. F. Swanson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton, 1941), 99-100. Trendelenburg's work was the principal source for almost all the attacksthat were directed against Hegel's logic throughout the nineteenth century; see, for example, Paul Barth, Die GeschichtsphilosophieHegel's und der Hegelianer bis auf Marx und Hartmann (Leipzig, 1890), 6-15; this volume, incidentally, was the first analysis of Marx's philosophy from a German academic, and it attracted the attention of the young economist Conrad Schmidt (1865-1932), as his letters to Engels show; and Eduard Bernstein, under the influence of Schmidt, disseminated many of Barth's conclusions in his various proposals for the revision of Marxism. 14 Marx's characterizationof the social contract as repulsion matches his rather one- sided treatment of it in "Zur Judenfrage" and the Grundrisse,but it is difficult to see how friendship is an example of repulsion.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




confounding matter and spirit, Epicurus intellectualized phenomena. The result of this intellectualization is the contradiction between essence and existence, form and content, being and thought. Marx's analysis then parallels the section of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason entitled "Am- phiboly of Reflective Judgment" because Kant's description of Leibniz's "confounding" (Verwechslung) and Marx's critique of Epicurus's con- tradiction share the same diagnosis: in the monadology and in atomism objects of thought seem to fill up the phenomenal world. Epicurus's step beyond Democritus is this Verwechslung. Marx affirms that Epicurus posits the atom as both stoicheion, the material element of nature, and as archai, the logical principles of thought (Thesis, 290; 60).15By failing to invoke attraction,by distancing himself from the speculative, and most of all by drawing out the consequences of intellectualized phenomena, Marx was reconstructing Kant's critique of rational metaphysics and thereby preparing the way for a significant confrontation with Hegel. The confounding of concepts with objects reaches its pinnacle when the atom-pure being-for-self-receives material qualities. Yet the atom

is an atom only when it has qualities, when it is determined by an other.

Epicurus added weight to Democritus's list of qualities, according to

Marx, and thus demonstrated most explicitly how concepts (which have

no mass) are exchanged for material objects: "the individuality of mat-


(Thesis,289; 57). Externality and materiality

returnedto haunt the "science of atomism."16The Verwechslungregisters

a profound problem: once the abstraction from matter is accomplished,

matter returns to undermine the abstractor. And there is no better il- lustrationof this returnof matter than death. Lucretius'smorsimmortalis

is the final humiliation imposed upon the atomist. Marx now reveals the

price Epicurus paid for his confounding:

The contradictionbetweenexistenceand essence, betweenmatterand form, whichlies in the concept of the atom, is posited withinthe atomitselfwhenit

is endowedwith qualities.Through the quality theatomis alienated [entfremdet]


the repulsion and the ensuingconglomeration of worldof appearanceemerges.(Thesis,293; 60)

lies outside ofmatter"

concept, but at the

sametime perfected in its construction.It is from

the qualified atoms that the

15 Marx draws attention to Leibniz's monads when considering the quality of shape (Thesis, 288-89; 56-57). He probably has Kant in mind when he formulated the contra- diction as a (Kantian sounding) antinomy: "if it is considered an antinomy that bodies perceptiblemerely through reason (Vernunft) are given spatial qualities, so is it a greater antinomy that spatial qualities themselves can only be perceived through the understand- ing [Verstand]" (Thesis, 291; 59-60). It is difficult to deny that Kant in the guise of Democritus is the object of this comment, even if it shows a certain unfamiliarity with the role Kant assigns to the understanding in perception. 16 Once again Marx refuses to invoke attraction even when Hegel (in explicit con- frontation with Kant's "analogies of experience") sees weight/gravitation as the negation of the negation (repulsion); see Science of Logic, 178-84.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 22 Jun 2014 10:21:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



Matter is the exteriorizationof the concept, so here, as in the final pages of Hegel's logic, "this absolute form has now been degraded to absolute matter, to the formless substrateof the phenomenal world" (Thesis, 293; 62). Matter now appears as a check, a failure that threatens the integrity and the identity of the monad or the atomized thinker. The fatal con- sequence of this failure is that Epicurus finds himself faced with matter the moment he succeeds in suppressing it. It lays a trap for him, and in the final triumph of atomistic consciousness matter returns as death:

Abstract individuality is freedomfromdeterminedexistence [Dasein], not free-

domin determinedexistence.It cannotshinein the

Daseins].This is an elementin which this individualloses its characterand

becomesmaterial. Thus, theatomdoesnotenterintothe

or it sinksdown to the materialbasiswhen it does enterit

naturehas becomeimmortal substance; and Lucretius correctly exclaims:Mor-


The most extreme consequence of atomism turns out to be immortal death, for it appears whenever the monad, abstract individuality which denies objective conditions, closes its windows, proclaiming its inde- pendence from all others. The materiality that is suppressed, moreover, returns in a form that

is unrecognizable to the atomistic thinker. The final section of the Thesis exposes the misrecognition which is the condition for the